Toronto's new Chopra Yoga Center – co-founded by Deepak Chopra, the Dr. Oz of alt medicine – sets itself apart in the crowded yogic marketplace with an emphasis on meditation.
With recent studies linking the age-old practice to enhanced creativity, empathy and concentration, and reduced rates of heart disease, stress and loneliness, there's been renewed interest. So it seems entirely fitting that Chopra, who has made himself famous by bringing ancient Indian teachings to the masses, would capitalize on our stressed-out desire to find some peace.
At first, however, I was dubious. After I make my way through the 6,500-square-foot, white-walled and wood-floored space to tonight's 30-minute meditation class, I'm surprised to see the room's sole window offers a view of the gridlocked Gardiner Expressway. Not so Zen.
Of course, this quickly becomes irrelevant as our eyes are closed for most of the session. Led by Paul Dermody, a primordial sound meditation teacher (a practice "rooted in the Vedic tradition of India"), we're encouraged to make ourselves comfortable (blankets, handmade cushions and beach lounger-like meditation chairs are on offer) as lit candles (organic and lead-free) are placed throughout the room.
After congratulating the class – about 10 men and women, dressed in yoga gear – for making it past the "energy shift" of the new year, Dermody talks briefly about the law of pure potentiality. One of Chopra's seven spiritual laws of success – as per his 1994 bestseller, also available on DVD – it involves practising silence and non-judgment.
Tonight's mantra: Om bhavam namah (I am absolute existence). This class was clearly more New Agey than I had anticipated. (Though perhaps I need to work on my non-judgment.)
After a short breathing exercise, we recite our mantra. Then it's time for the main event: 15 minutes of silent meditation. While Dermody tells us to "feel our bodies, allow our minds to quiet and calm … and enjoy," all I feel is mild terror. When was the last time I sat still for five minutes, never mind 15, without a book or my iPhone?
Yet when he sounds a chime, I can't believe that 15 minutes have passed; I feel clear-headed (and more than a little relieved). We're then asked to imagine a white light radiating through our bodies, gently washing away "the energy that no longer serves us" – my negativity, perhaps? – and instructed to open our eyes "as though we're a newborn child." The class ends with a chant, sung by Dermody, as well as an encouragement to share a hug with our fellow meditators.
Afterward, I ask Dermody what he believes to be the biggest misconception about the practice. He worries that people will find it "a little bit out there." I can't help but agree. Yet enjoying 15 minutes of silence is such an absolute luxury in my over-scheduled life that I'm more than willing to try again. Our conversation concludes with a hug.